Logan heads to Teays Valely with a different mind-set
By CRAIG DUNN Sports Editor firstname.lastname@example.org
LOGAN — What a difference a year makes.
While that lead may sound somewhat cliché, it holds oh-so-true for the Logan Chieftains as they prepare to face week-two foe Teays Valley.
A year ago at this time, the Chiefs were already a beat-up football team as they entered the second week of the 2013 season. They were in the process of re-tooling much of their personnel from scratch after losing quarterback Lane Little with a broken collarbone in the opener against Lancaster.
“You game-plan a specific way for the weeks and months leading up to the season, and then the bottom essentially drops out and you’re forced to figure out how to use new personnel,” said Logan coach Billy Burke in recalling the disarray the Chiefs faced at this time last fall. “Not only did we have to replace a quarterback, but we also had injuries at some other positions and we had some guys playing out of position.
“Cross your fingers and knock on wood,” he added, but “we came out of Friday night (against the Gales) pretty healthy. I think a lot of that comes from when you play hard and you’re the aggressor that prevents injuries itself.”
The Chiefs indeed took last week’s game to a tiring Golden Gales team before dropping a heartbreaking 43-42 double-overtime decision on a controversial Lancaster 2-point conversion at the end of the game.
As they prepare to take on Teays Valley this Friday — the Chiefs make their first-ever football trek to Ashville for a 7 p.m. kickoff — the Chiefs have a different mind-set.
“When we got up Saturday morning and looked at the film, we were pretty pleased with effort,” Burke said. “We were pleased with the way the kids attempted to execute. You’re not always going to execute 100 percent — the other team does practice too, and they’re prepared as well — but we’re ecstatic about our effort and how hard the kids played.
“That makes scheming things a little easier because we know what kind of effort we’re going to get every Friday night,” he added.
While the Chiefs didn’t totally neutralize the Gales’ size advantage along the lines, they were able to keep their personnel as fresh as possible and came up with a couple big defensive stands in the fourth quarter as well as in both overtimes.
“We did do a pretty good job subbing guys in and out (on the O- and D-lines) so that we didn’t have guys who stayed on the field for an extended period of time since those guys play offense and defense,” Burke pointed out. “We had a really good game plan and executed our assignments and played our keys like we’re supposed to.
“The part that got us in trouble was out on the edge (where) sometimes our corners didn’t do a good job getting the runner on the ground,” he continued. “Part of that is that it’s hard to simulate facing a big runner or a physical runner (in practice). Sometimes when you get them on the ground just by wiping out their legs, that’s just as good, but it’s hard to simulate.
“We’ve learned from the situations we were in that ‘I’m smaller, but I’m a better athlete and I’ll do what I have to do to get them down on the ground,’ ” he added.
Lancaster ran 79 offensive plays and its offense had the ball for a whopping 34:12 of the game’s 48 regulation minutes. As expected, the Gales churned out yardage on the ground (see Chieftain Notebook for additional details) while the Chiefs went with a quick-strike offense in the air.
As a result, the Chiefs did a lot of gang-tackling. They registered solo tackles on 34 of those plays and, on Lancaster’s other 39 non-scoring plays, had 100 assisted tackles.
“When you play hard sometimes that takes away the size advantage that another team has,” Burke noted. “Heck, if every team that was bigger won a football game, then we would just match up who’s heaviest and who’s strongest and that’s all we would do. You have to play and execute.”
That’s exactly what the Chiefs need to do not only against Teays Valley (1-0), but the rest of the way this season.
The Vikings “have a pretty athletic quarterback who makes plays and a couple running backs we’re pretty impressed with,” Burke pointed out. “They’re sort of a spread-style team but still want to run the ball (and) run some option.
“I’m really impressed with their defensive line and I like their linebackers,” he added. “They’re pretty athletic in the secondary as well.”
Out of the four games the Chieftains lost last season, the one that got away, so to speak, was their week-two, 26-13 setback to the Vikings in Logan Chieftain Stadium.
That was the game in which the Chiefs started, by necessity, their transition into a ground-based offensive team with converted running back Nick Kost playing quarterback.
It took the Chiefs a few weeks to get their bearings — and Teays Valley was a game they would love to have re-played once they got on track. The Vikings ultimately lost their next six games and seven of their final eight to finish 3-7.
“A lot of times the battle coaches face is when you face an opponent that you’re supposed to beat, or you face an opponent that’s smaller, or an opponent you handled the previous year,” Burke said. “Coaches might not take it for granted, but sometimes when you’re dealing with 16-year-old kids they get a little ahead of themselves and they don’t understand the urgency each and every week.
“Whether that happened (against Lancaster) I don’t know, but it’s something we’ll have to face each week,” he added. “We had some success Friday night and we have to make sure that successes or failures from the week before don’t impact the next game.”
Surprisingly, the team that made the fewest mistakes did not win last Friday.
The Chiefs committed only one penalty (for five yards) and turned the ball over just once. The Gales, meanwhile, were flagged for 12 miscues — many of them 5-yard motion penalties, not counting the one they should have been called for on their game-winning 2-point conversion run — and Logan converted a Lancaster fumble into immediate dividends when Dean Jordan rambled a school-record 89 yards for a third-period touchdown.
“When you have mistakes (and) unforced errors you’re already battling an opponent shorthanded,” Burke said. “You’ve already put yourself five yards longer, or you’ve already given them the ball on a short field.
“A team that makes the fewest mistakes generally comes out on top simply because you don’t want to beat yourself and put yourself at a disadvantage,” he continued. “I believe that holds true for the most part — but when it doesn’t come out that way (like last Friday) it’s sometimes hard to sell to your kids.”
Expect Little and the passing game to again be a big part of Friday night’s game in Pickaway County. Little was 24-of-40 passing for 306 yards and four touchdowns (again, see more details in Chieftain Notebook) last week and also caught a 9-yard halfback-option pass from Dean Jordan.
Chance Cox, who didn’t play football as a junior, was on the receiving end of three of Little’s TD aerials.
“I was a little more surprised in the great escape-ability that Lane had,” Burke praised. “I know that he’s an athlete and I know he’s a competitor, but he made some slippery plays out there in order to keep a play alive in the pocket and then find guys downfield.
Opposing defenses “can only cover guys for so long, especially (with) the talent of wide receivers that we have,” he added. “Chance Cox is one of them. Lane learned a lot Friday night, being his first real full (varsity) football game, and some other guys, Chance included, finally got some (varsity) experience. They saw that when we execute, we can be pretty good.”